Hi, I’m Tim Feak, the Under 25s Officer for the Diocese of St Asaph, welcome to my blog!
My eldest son Isaac is now 6. When he was 4 he found my rock climbing gear under the stairs. It was shiny and colourful and made a nice clinking noise. He of course wanted to have a go. Climbing is now his favourite hobby. We go out regularly and even if I do say so myself he is rather good at it. So good in fact that he wanted to develop his skills and try a different form of climbing. This type of climbing, called leading, involves clipping a rope into clips on the rock face as the climber ascends the route. It is a good technique to learn in order gain the skills for other types of climbing that involve much more shiny, clinky gear! Lead climbing is safe but if one slips they do not simply dangle where they fell, they drop until the clip they attached their rope to last arrests their fall. This can, for a novice climber be a bit scary.
My son had nagged me for a while about trying leading and I had, in a moment of weakness over Christmas said that he may be able to have a go next time we go. He did not forget!
I had been offered help for this momentous occasion by 2 very friendly climbers. The plan was for Isaac to climb up and clip in to the various extenders (clips) as I climbed beside him, our ropes being held by our friends.
We started the route, my son in full confidence and me terrified he may hate it and never want to climb again. He clipped slowly into the first extender struggling with the tricky technique of holding on with one hand and manipulating the rope with the other whilst not falling off. Once we had heard the satisfying click of the rope being secured on he climbed. Higher and higher. At every clip I explained that he could come down whenever he wanted but he insisted on keeping going. It took a great deal of self restraint not to grab the rope from him when he struggled to get it into a clip and to do it for him. But I knew I could not. If I had interfered he would not have learnt. I had to watch him struggle knowing that he would probably be able to it but just a bit slower than me.
My role was firstly to trust that his instinct was right, that he indeed was ready to move on to leading. Once climbing it was to climb with him, side by side. To encourage him and to gently point out where he needed to go and to offer help and give it if he asked. Obviously if I saw that he was going to do something dangerous I would do whatever it took to help him.
Isaac made it to the top of the climb and was richly congratulated by the many people who had stopped what they were doing in order to watch him. He did really well. He learnt a lot that day and so did I.
I am still learning to be a Dad and a youth worker. One of the things I find difficult is allowing my kids and the young people I work with to learn by encouraging them to ‘do’. It is often quicker, easier and less uncomfortable for us to simply do it for them. For instance clipping Isaac’s rope in for him, doing all of the cleaning up on a youth event, tying a child’s laces for 18 years! Actually, as parents and youth leaders we need to provide children and young people the opportunity to learn and to learn by doing. Of course we intervene when necessary but we need to trust our children and young people, we need to take into account their point of view, instinct and opinion in certain situations. We need to be willing to celebrate with them in success and also stand with them in failure. We need to climb, walk, journey with them. We need to empower them to ‘clip in’ themselves. This is such a vital part of learning.